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Independent citizens committee sees Referendum funds in action

June 17, 2023

Mrs. Stratton's class learns long vowels through song and dance

High Point Elementary scholars are clapping, snapping and dancing while learning to read and write. They’re taking part in a Referendum-funded summer program called Ladders to Literacy, offered at 22 Summer Bridge schools. The program immerses children in reading and writing and integrates literacy with music, art and PE.

Since 2004, Pinellas County Schools Referendum has boosted reading, music and art programs; provided current technology and textbooks; and helped recruit and retain quality teachers. Eighty percent of the Referendum funds teacher salaries. Next school year, teachers will receive a supplement of $6,328.  

This week, members of the independent citizens' committee that reviews Referendum spending visited the school to see Referendum funds in action. During the visit, members toured classrooms serving students who will be in kindergarten through third grade next school year. They saw scholars of all levels and backgrounds building their literacy skills.

Committee members were impressed with what they saw at High Point.Rising second graders learn to read

“I thought it was great that there was this opportunity for us to get out in the field and observe a lot of good things that are happening as a result of the Referendum,” said Maria Cantonis, who represents Arts for a Complete Education. Her organization is focused on promoting quality arts education in Pinellas County Schools.

Committee member Raegan Miller, who represents the Pinellas County Council of PTAs, was “blown away” by the visit and thrilled to see the joy on children’s faces as they played word games, danced and achieved reading and writing milestones.

“It’s impressive that the Referendum can meet the needs of so many students,” Miller said.

Students of all reading levels had what they needed. “And teachers had the tools they needed,” she said. “I wish that everyone in our community could see this.”

Depending on their reading proficiency, children were split into groups, including independent reading, small group instruction, phonics, and writing with illustration.

Teachers don’t spoon-feed all of the answers to students, explained Chief Academic Officer Dr. Dan Evans.

“We want the productive struggles, so they can own their learning,” he said.

In the Rising Kindergarten class, children were learning about characters, settings and patterns. During the lesson, their teacher asked them if they knew what the word “pattern” means.

One boy proudly shouted, “A pattern repeats.”

Much of the teaching is about getting Rising Kindergarten students to be “leaders in kindergarten,” said Cassandra Murphy Atkins, K-2 Reading and Language Arts Specialist. “It’s really about having them prepared for the transition from prekindergarten to kindergarten so that they’re all excited instead of nervous.”

High Point Rising K students

Ladders to Literacy is a program within Summer Bridge that supports Pinellas County Schools Early Literacy Initiative. Teachers who participate attend professional development directed by the University of Florida Lastinger Center.

At High Point Elementary School, about 60 percent of the students are Hispanic, and the majority are first-generation Americans, according to Principal Annette Mavres. That’s one of several reasons this prescriptive program is so vital for her school community.

The Independent Citizens Referendum Oversight Committee reviews Referendum spending four times a year. They held their Quarter 3 meeting right after the tour. See the Quarter 3 report. Learn about the Referendum.

Learn more about Ladders to Literacy: